Michiana health experts warn N95 masks might not be ideal option for everyone

NOW: Michiana health experts warn N95 masks might not be ideal option for everyone

MISHAWAKA, Ind. -- With the Omicron variant continuing to spread across the United States-- and every Indiana county in the red-- it's important that everyone continues to mask up. Many experts have said that the n95 mask is one of the more effective options when it comes to protection from COVID-19.

“It is just about the most effective filtering mask that we have," said Dr. Mark Fox, the Deputy Director for the St. Joseph County Health Department.

Last week, the Federal Government announced that it will distribute 400 million free n95 masks to pharmacies, stores and health centers to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant. The masks are highly effective in their ability from keeping COVID-19 virus particles from entering or exiting the mask. 

“When we talk about an n-95 mask, we’re talking about a complete filtration of air particles," said Guy Miller, the Berrien County Health Department Health Officer, describing the benefits of the n95 mask. “It actually creates a complete seal around your face.”

While the mask is undoubtedly more effective than a standard cloth or surgical mask, health experts advise that the n95 might not be right for everyone. 

First off, the n95 was designed for healthcare professionals-- and requires proper fitting called a fit test, done by a team of nurses, to make sure the mask's seal is not broken when the wearer moves in their day to day. 

Dr. Fox said “For someone to just slap one on-- without an appropriate fit test-- doesn’t provide the same assurance as one that’s been properly fit in a clinical setting.”

And secondly-- 

“They’re uncomfortable as all get out!” added Fox. 

He argued that the level of protection, while useful, is really only necessary for those at high risk or working directly with COVID positive people. 

But there are options for those who are looking for similar levels of protection with more ease for the wearer. 

“A kn95 produces a pretty good seal on the face but it’s not a necessary mask that you have to be fit tested for," said Miller. "I don’t anticipate the general public is going to go out and get fit tested for these masks-- that’s a ridiculous ask-- but the kn95 mask tends to fit better on our faces.”

There is a concern that increased interest in the n95 mask could create supply shortages for frontline workers in the future. 

“We did have a shortage of surgical masks when the general public started wearing surgical masks," Miller said. "And I do know the hospitals were stressed for resources at that time, so I wouldn’t want to test it, especially with a medical grade mask.”

Though Dr. Fox believes that giving out 400 million n95 masks right now is not going to make a huge difference in demand. 

“There’s good evidence that we are nearing the backside of the Omicron surge, and so the great urgency that’s compelled people to look for higher quality masks is gonna be behind us relatively soon," Fox said. "So I think the proportion of people that really want to get their hands on the highest quality mask and the people who are going to want to wear them is going to be pretty small.”

Both health experts agreed that even if n95 or kn95 masks are not available, any mask that properly covers the face is better than none-- and of course, to get vaccinated if you have not been already. 

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